In certain cases, the law requires that mandatory minimum sentencing be applied. In this article, we’ll explore what that means and under what circumstances it might apply to a case. Let’s start with the basic question:
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require judges to deliver sentences of a certain length for offenders convicted of specific types of federal and state crimes. In other words, even if the judge wanted to give you a lighter sentence, they cannot–they are required by law to give you the minimum.
Typically, when you have been convicted of a crime, a sentencing judge will determine a sentence that is proportional to the crime that you have committed. Sentencing guidelines provide suggested sentences for specific crimes, but the judge may also take into consideration any extenuating circumstances surrounding the crime.
In these cases, the judge may look at your criminal history, whether anyone was intentionally injured, your mental state at the time of the crime, and many other factors that cannot be derived from a set of sentencing guidelines. Taking all of these factors into consideration, as well as the suggested sentencing guidelines, the judge will determine a sentence that fits the situation. It may fall within the sentencing guidelines recommendation, or it may be longer or shorter depending on the circumstances involved in your case.
If you are charged with a state or federal crime, the law–not the judge–determines your sentence.
If you are charged with a state or federal crime that has an attached mandatory minimum sentence, however, the judge has far less discretion when deciding on your sentence. In these cases, the law determines the minimum amount of time to be served, not the judge. Even when the judge feels that the mandatory minimum sentence is too severe for the crime committed, the judge must give you at least the mandatory minimum sentence.
Many mandatory minimum sentences revolve around drug arrests, violent crimes and firearm offenses.
New York is especially well known for the Rockefeller Drug Laws. These were a set of mandatory minimum sentencing laws developed specifically to target the drug trade. They imposed strict minimum sentences for many drug-related offenses in an attempt to tackle the growing drug epidemic.
In recent years, after failing to significantly reduce the use and trade of illegal drugs, many mandatory minimum sentencing laws, including the Rockefeller Drug Laws, have been reformed. Many of the mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced significantly, however, for certain violent crimes and drug offenses, there is still little judicial discretion when it comes to your sentence.
In situations where an offender is under nineteen years old, and is granted “youthful offender status,” the mandatory minimum may not apply, but otherwise the judge has little choice when it comes to a mandatory minimum sentence. For example, in New York, assault in the first degree is a class B violent felony. If you are an adult convicted of assault in the first degree in New York, even if you have no criminal history, you are facing a mandatory minimum sentence of five years with a maximum of twenty-five years. In this case the judge would be legally required to give you a sentence of at least five years, regardless of your lack of criminal history or circumstances surrounding the assault.
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